Leeds academic publishes 'remarkable' new book reimagining world in which young Darwin developed theory of evolution

The School of Philosophy, Religion, and History of Science celebrated the publication of a new historical study by Dr Jonathan Topham.  

Dr Topham’s groundbreaking study, Reading the Book of Nature: How Eight Best Sellers Reconnected Christianity and the Sciences on the Eve of the Victorian Age, offers an account that challenges often repeated narratives of a widespread ‘conflict between science and religion’ in Victorian Britain.

The book centres on the Bridgewater Treatises, a series concerning ‘the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Creation’ that were the most high profile scientific books of the day at the time when Charles Darwin returned from the Beagle voyage in 1836. 

Becoming far more widely read than anyone anticipated, the series offered Darwin’s generation a range of approaches to the great question of how to incorporate the newly emerging disciplinary sciences into Britain’s overwhelmingly Christian culture.   

Darwin himself read most of the series, and in 1859 he used a quotation from one of them as the opening words of his great evolutionary work Origin of Species – claiming that it was altogether grander to think of God creating things ‘by the establishment of general laws’ than by individual miracles.  

Dr Topham’s ‘long-anticipated’ study, published by The University of Chicago Press, examines how and to what extent the series contributed to a sense of congruence between Christianity and the sciences in the generation before the Victorians.  

A ‘vitally important book’

In the process, he succeeds in offering ‘a new way of thinking about the relations between religion and science,’ that pays attention for the first time to ordinary churchgoers and the ways in which reading about science became part of their daily lives. 

In a review, Bernard Lightman of York University said: “In his long-anticipated study of the Bridgewater Treatises, Topham has given us a deeply capitvating, beautifully written, meticulously researched, and vitally important book that positively sparkles with new insights.”

For more about Dr Topham’s study, consult the publisher’s website